Earlier this spring, Michael Meehlhause did what most nordic skiers wouldn’t think of doing on camera, let alone upload for the world to see. He rapped and submitted the video to his college’s film festival. Soon after, he posted “Bemidji State of Mind” on You Tube.
Three months later in July, the 22-year-old Bemidji State University graduate accepted the position of executive director for the Minnesota Nordic Ski Association.
While Meehlhause’s hip-hop tribute to the state’s northern city had nothing to do with his interview (it was a spoof on “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys), it showed what he could offer the Minnesota ski community: youth and creativity.
According to him, that’s what the Minnesota Nordic Ski Association (MNSA) wanted.
“It (was) a great sign that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can always give back to the sport somehow,” Meehlhause said in a phone interview from near Brainerd, Minn., where he was student teaching at the high school.
In an organization run entirely by volunteers since it began in 2000, the executive-director position was part time and unpaid, which attracted a certain type of person, Meehlhause said.
“My parents taught me, if you really care about something in your life, you should always try to give back to it,” he said.
A newcomer to the sport in ninth grade, Meehlhause let a friend talk him into joining the Irondale High School nordic team.
“I fell in love with it pretty quickly and couldn’t imagine my life without it,” he said.
At Bemidji State, where Meehlhause studied social-studies education and coaching, he served as president of the student senate. There, he gained experience at the state level and learned how to make an impact.
“I’ve seen a statewide organization in action, I’ve seen what kind of voice it can have,” he said. “The idea to help grow this organization and help grow this sport, that really inspired me.”
The commissioner for the Minnesota SkinnySki Series for the last three years, Meehlhause helped promote six or seven citizens’ races each season through press releases and its website, minnesotaskinnyskiseries.com. However, the series would be on hiatus this year, he said.
His goal was to get it back and running better than before. Meehlhause’s agenda also included expo planning, especially for ski-trail groomers interested in expert advice, techniques and the latest technology.
Meehlhause said he was reaching out to other state organizations, such as snowmobile groups, to brainstorm ways to expand the sport. After snowmobiling and ice fishing, he figured nordic skiing ranked among the top winter activities in Minnesota. Then again, he also considered the large amount of people who stayed indoors until summer.
“There’s thousands of skiers in Minnesota,” he said. “It’s one of the best, if not the best, skiing cultures in the nation.”
The association wanted to meet the needs of racers from the development and club to masters’ levels, while also catering to recreational skiers. Across the board, maintaining and boosting funds for the state’s estimated 4,000 kilometers of trails was a priority.
“I’d like to see this organization really become a powerful voice for nordic skiing in the state,” Meehlhause said. “Something that’s able to help various ski clubs promote their sport, something that’s able to promote events and continuing to advocate for skiers across the state.”
He also intended to follow up on laws that affect rollerskiers and expand the association to create full-time positions. While Meehlhause wasn’t sure what career path he would ultimately follow, he was sure he’d stay involved in skiing – possibly as a coach – and hopefully move back to Bemidji.
Check out Meehlhause’s “Bemidji State of Mind” video on You Tube.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.